Tag Archives: Carne Golf Links

Castle Stuart Passes Latest Test

A reader from “Lake Wobegon” — a transparent alias for Lake Michigan, which provided the backdrop and fog for last week’s PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, No. 18 — asks for my definition of the word overrated. “If I can figure out what dictionary you’re using,” he writes, “I can maybe understand your omission of Pine Valley, Pinehurst No. 2, Medinah No. 3, Cherry Hills, The Country Club, Riviera, Inverness, Oakland Hills, Firestone South, Winged Foot, Congressional and Baltusrol from your ridiculous rankings.”

Simply by perusing Wobegon’s list of “slighted” courses I can tell a lot about the man. (There can be no doubt he is a man.) He lives on the far side of fifty, plays to a single-digit handicap, drives a Cadillac Escalade, walks about with a sweater around his neck, drinks Johnny Walker Black, has a home library with more than 200 golf books and a wing chair, votes Republican, has a trophy wife, and files an amended tax return two years out of five. He is, in other words, a man very much like myself.*

*I drive a Honda Insight hybrid, never touch alcohol and vote Democratic, but I roughly conform to the stereotype.

So I can understand Wobegon’s reluctance to accept that Time has passed him — and his beloved Canon of Great Golf Courses — by. (“It strikes! one, two,”  declaims Ben Jonson. “Three, four, five, six. Enough, enough, dear watch, Thy pulse hath beat enough.” ) All the courses he names have resided for a while in the Top 50, only to flow down and off the list like water going over a falls. As for my definition of overrated, I go with American Heritage: “to rate or appraise too highly.”

Which brings me back to the Castle Stuart Golf Links of Inverness, Scotland. Castle Stuart, open only a few months when it debuted last year at No. 10, has since risen to ninth, raising suspicions that insiders with personal agendas might have influenced the rating.*

*Specifically, critics have pointed to my middle name, which happens to be Stuart, and to my most recent book, Ancestral Links: A Golf Obsession Spanning Generations, which has three chapters on the golfing history of the Royal Stuart family, ending with a thwarted visit to the Castle Stuart construction site in the autumn of 2007. My critics, of course, are complete asses.

Castle Stuart

Whitecaps on the Firth? The 11th at Castle Stuart (John Garrity)

As mentioned in an earlier post, Dave Henson and I played only five holes at Castle Stuart on the Fourth of July, due to winds of up to 70 mph and precipitation in the form of horizontal rain, sleet, snow, hail and frozen desserts. Returning three days later at mid-morning, we were happy to see the sky cleared of clouds and the sun spreading its warmth; the only hangup was the wind, which was inexplicably stronger, gusting to 75. Dave was dubious about playing, but I assured him that Mark Parsinen and Gil Hanse had taken wind into account when they designed Castle Stuart. “Just remember to keep one foot on your trolley when you’re hitting a shot,” I told him. “And don’t hit your driver into the wind.”

Dave, whose former post in the Labor Department had him giving advice rather than taking it, apparently thought I was joking. He spent most of the round picking up his  toppled bag, chasing his trolley as it rolled toward cliffs, and watching his drives get swatted down by the gale. I, on the other hand, played most of my shots with a hybrid-4,  employing a hinge-and-hold technique that produced a steady tattoo of 130- to 150-yard wormburners. “It’s golf as it was meant to be played,” I told my frazzled friend, mentally pocketing skin after skin.

Despite the extreme conditions, Castle Stuart was playable. The ball rolled on its own accord on just one green, the twelfth, which clings to a promontory above the beach. The broad fairways, meanwhile, were receptive to smartly-struck drives, and the green complexes tended to collect and contain wayward shots rather than repel them. Aesthetically, Castle Stuart most resembles Top 50 evergreens Pebble Beach and Whistling Straits. The first three holes on each side run low along the water but in opposite directions, bringing the wind into play in contrary fashion. Subsequent holes ride the higher ground, and it’s only when you walk over to cliff’s edge that you see the holes below. The views, needless to say, are spectacular, and there are so many memorable holes that it’s hard to pick out a favorite. The postcard hole is probably the par-3 11th, played from a cliff-wall tee to a hanging-over-the-water green guarded by a nasty pot bunker.

Anyway, having played the course twice now — once last summer in a modest breeze and more recently in wind-tunnel conditions — I can confidently say that Castle Stuart, at No. 9, is not overrated. If anything, it is underrated. (“To rate or evaluate too low; underestimate.”) Personally, I put it right up there with Askernish Old and Carne, my two favorite courses.

Top 50 Alert: Erin Hills Golf Course of Erin, Wisc., recently picked to host the 2017 U.S. Open, debuts at No. 23, the highest first-time ranking for a course since Castle Stuart debuted at No. 10.  Built on farmland outside Milwaukee, Erin Hills echoes the trend toward rural courses with links-style characteristics, a la Prairie Dunes, Sand Hills, Whistling Straits and Medicine Hole. In fact, the bag drop/caddyshack at Erin Hills is an actual barn. (Note to USGA: Provide paved parking for Escalades.)

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No Substance to Reader’s Complaint

“Where have you been?” asks a reader from Peculiar, Mo. “Geoff Shackelford posts more in a day than you give us in a month.”

The reader, of course, couldn’t be more wrong. My Top 50 Blog is all about the adjacent list, and the list is constantly being updated by the Cal Sci math department. Last Saturday, for example, the Carne Golf Links of Belmullet, Ireland, briefly snatched the No. 2 ranking from the Augusta National Golf Club of Augusta, Ga. Yesterday, the new Machrihanish Dunes course on Scotland’s Kintyre Peninsula surged to No. 50, only to be beaten back by the Nairn Golf Links, a well-regarded Highlands course that will host the 2012 Curtis Cup matches. And now, in just the past two hours, those four courses have reverted to the ranks they held last Friday. Had the reader been paying attention, she would have spotted the activity and held off on her nagging e-mail.

My “columns,” as I like to think of them, are a different matter. I try to knock one out on at least a monthly basis, but I lead a busy life. In addition to my SI/GOLF/Golf.com duties, I serve on two Presidential commissions, take occasional gigs as a hotel-lobby jazz pianist, coach a parochial-league basketball team, assist several NBA teams with their draft choices, serve as official photographer for the Missouri Snipe-Hunt Association and  — on doctor’s orders — play golf as often as I can. Finding time to craft these columns is difficult, and readers‘ complaints don’t make it any easier.

Did I mention how much I travel? I spent the last three weeks in Scotland and Ireland checking up on several of the Top 50’s links courses. After each round I filled out the 22-page Top 50 course-rating form and mailed it off to the States, a procedure that took from two to four hours. (The longer time was for top-ranked Askernish Old, where the backup generator didn’t always kick in when the clubhouse windmill slowed.) Many of these rounds lasted until well past ten p.m. with hours of paperwork to follow, so no one, least of all my wife, should be surprised that I had to bang on a farmhouse door at 1 a.m. on the Herbridean island of South Uist to get the key to the front doors of the Borrodale Hotel, which was inexplicably locked.

That said, I hope to post several brief course reports in the next few days. They may not satisfy the reader in Peculiar, but they should go over well in Normal, Ill.

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Confused Carne Correspondent Strays into Legendary Dublin Pubs

I was preparing to write a few lines about the wonderful CordeValle Resort Golf Club, No. 50, when the chime rang and Woodcock ran in with the latest dispatch from our chief Irish course rater, David McCormick. McCormick, a New Yorker, moonlights as my literary agent, but his real passion is golf. Or at least I thought so until I read the synopsis of his recent trip. “I played 36 holes each day except Saturday,” he wrote, “when I went into Dublin (instead of playing Portmarnock Golf Club) to see the sights and meet a friend.”

McCormick at Carne Golf

Course rater David McCormick, in an obviously doctored photo, at Carne Golf Links, Ireland. (John Garrity)

Instead of playing Portmarnock? Turning to Woodcock, I quipped, “Those must be some sights, and that must be some friend.”* In any event, the absence of fresh data on the eight-time Irish Open venue forced me to move course-designer/golf pro Eddie Hackett’s longtime workplace to No. 4 on the Top 50 Contingency List, behind The Country Club at Brookline.

*Showing that he’s the consummate professional, McCormick submitted a concise and sober report on his Dublin frolic: “Almost every pub I passed or went into had the U.S. Open on the big screens. It was fun to watch with such passionate golf fans, and with McDowell in the chase the pints were plentiful.”

To be fair, we sent McCormick to report on courses in the scenic northwest counties of the Irish Republic. And report he did. “Well, I fell in love with Murvagh Golf Club, a course in Donegal. Played it in the morning with two members from near Belfast and in the afternoon with a young Irishman living in England, who was home for a golf holiday. Murvagh is just a sweet layout. Doesn’t have the elevation extremes of Carne, but it’s deceptive and, when the wind kicked in, quite challenging. I loved the County Sligo Golf Club*, too. Very stately and many memorable holes. Their #17, the number-1 handicap hole — long, blind, uphill, with a second shot to a sloping green — is not as hard as Carne’s 17th, but I bogeyed it both times.”

*Also known as “Rosses Point.”

David’s multiple references to the Carne Golf Links, No. 3, comes as no surprise, as the Hackett-designed Mayo landmark is the benchmark for untamed Irish links courses. “Carne is extraordinary,” David continues. “Also, they were incredibly kind to me — comped my golf and my hotel, wouldn’t even let me buy lunch. I played with Eamon Mangan*, John Healy and Noel Reilly, this year’s captain of the Belmullet Golf Club. Very nice gents. I also met Edmund McAndrew, who told me about a somewhat eccentric guy named Geraghty who comes in to the post office to pick up his pension dough and is clearly a relative of yours.”**

*For more about Mangan, who worked with Eddie Hackett on the design and construction of Carne, read my book, Ancestral Links: A Golf Obsession Spanning Generations, available online and at better bookstores on both sides of the Atlantic.

** All of the Geraghtys are eccentric, and they’re all relatives of mine.

“Eamon also took me on a tour of the new nine, and that was a total treat. I think you or somebody — Chip McGrath? — should write a piece on the building of that nine, working with the architect [Jim Engh], but also telling how the locals have taken matters into their own hands in lots of interesting ways. There aren’t too many stories (or new courses) like it, as you know.”

David sounded only two false notes in his Carne report. Here’s the first: “The weather was perfect.” (To back up this absurd claim he sent a terabyte of photographs showing Carne’s fairways as parched and brown as a hillside in Sudan. Amazing what you can do with Photoshop!) Here’s the second: “I told Eamon I’d help spread the gospel of Carne.” That, of course, would violate the Top 50 Code of Acceptable Practices. Personally, whenever I praise an agreeable links such as Carne or Askernish — as, for instance, when I call either or both of them “the greatest golf course in the world” — I am careful to point out that the Top 50 is the last word in course rating, and thus immune to subjectivism and bias.

Lodging Tips: The spiffy Broadhaven Bay Hotel in Belmullet is by far the best choice for Carne-ivores, but architect Engh swears by the old Western Strands Hotel, a just-off-the-square inn with good food, closet-sized rooms, and a warm and cheery pub. For both charm and scenery, however, you can’t beat Terry and Francis McSweeney’s four-star Stella Maris Hotel, which is an hour’s drive up the coast, between the towering North Mayo Cliffs and Downpatrick Head. “I had a very nice night and a delicious dinner at the Stella Maris,” David McCormick wrote in a post script. “Oh, and Terry says hi.”

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